Ratification problems loom over Convention

31.05.03 @ 21:38

  1. By Honor Mahony
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BRUSSELS - Once the Convention on Europe's future and then the governments manage to thrash out an EU constitution, an even bigger hurdle awaits them: ratification of the treaty by member states.

  • If the new constitution is not ratified by all countries within two years the matter shall be referred to the European Council, says the draft Constitution presented by Convention president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing (Photo: EUobserver.com)

The draft constitution unveiled at the beginning of the week by Convention president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing shows that it will have to be ratified by all 25 member states of an enlarged Union or it will not come into force.

This fact is coupled with a growing movement in the Convention to have a referendum on the blueprint at the same time through out Europe.

By the end of the Convention's plenary session on Friday (30 May), some 92 delegates, including vice president Giuliano Amato, had signed a petititon calling on Member states to have such a poll.

Political exercise

But, there was also a sense of reality in the Convention as the bargaining came down to the hardcore issues such as tax, foreign policy and institutional balance.

"We should not lose sight of the fact that a final text has to be submitted to governments and ratified by member states," said Mr Giscard.

Former Irish prime minister John Bruton warned against carrying out an "academic exercise". This is a political exercise, he said.

So far both Ireland and Denmark (one of the most eurosceptic countries) will definitely have a referendum. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Danish prime minister, said recently:

"The EU's constitution is so new and large a document that it would be right to hold a referendum on it."

Austria, France, Italy, Portugal....

The Austrians are also drifting towards the idea. Government representative Hannes Farnleitner told the EUobserver that there is "a strong current for a referendum" but added that the decision whether to hold one will depend on the outcome of the Convention.

France has also hinted that it would let its citizens go to the polls on the issue - its foreign minister openly backed the idea earlier in the year, while the Italian government representative in the Convention, Gianfranco Fini, has said that he would be willing to see a referendum at the time of the European Parliament elections in June next year. Also the Portuguese government has indicated that a referendum will be held to approve the new European Constitution.

In Germany, however, referenda at the federal level are banned by the constitution.

In the ten accession countries, there is the difficult situation of having a referendum on a treaty which fundamentally changes the Union that they have just agreed to join - also by referendum.

Blueprint for tyranny

In the UK, the government is having a hard time of it having been taken hostage by anti-European Tory press.

With screaming headlines like "blueprint for tyranny", the Daily Mail paper has wrong-footed the government who has flatly refused to have a referendum - where there is a very real chance that British voters reject the new constitution out of hand.

If such should happen - no concrete solution is provided by the new Treaty. The Giscard draft constitutution says:

"If two years after signature of the Treaty establishing the constitution, four fifths of the member states have ratified it and one or more member states have enountered difficulties in proceeding with ratification, the matter shall be referred to the European Council".

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